Traditional Jewish Sources
14 Do not oppress the hired laborer who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your people or one of the sojourners in your land within your gates. 15 Give him his wages in the daytime, and do not let the sun set on them, for he is poor, and his life depends on them, lest he cry out to God about you, for this will be counted as a sin for you.
Mishnah, Bava Metzia 7:1
One who hires workers and instructs them to begin work early and to stay late—in a place in which it is not the custom to begin work early and to stay late, the employer may not force them to do so. In a place in which it is the custom to feed the workers, he must do so. In a place in which it is the custom to distribute sweets, he must do so. Everything goes according to the custom of the land [minhag hamakom].
A story about Rabbi Yochanan ben Matya, who told his son, “Go, hire us workers.” His son went and promised them food (without specifying what kind, or how much). When he returned, his father said to him, “My son! Even if you gave them a feast like that of King Solomon, you would not have fulfilled your obligation toward them, for they are the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. However, as they have not yet begun to work, go back and say to them that their employment is conditional on their not demanding more than bread and vegetables.” Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said, “It is not necessary to make such a stipulation. Everything goes according to the custom of the place.”
Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 3:21
Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah says: If there is no Torah study, there is no derech eretz (worldly involvement); if there is no derech eretz, there is no Torah study. If there is no wisdom, there is no fear of God; if there is no fear of God, there is no wisdom. If there is no reason, there is no understanding; if there is no understanding, there is no reason. If there is no flour, there is no Torah; if there is no Torah, there is no flour.
- Paraphrase the excerpts.
- Discuss and agree upon the main points of each excerpt.
- Describe the relationship between worker and boss or employer in the excerpts from Deuteronomy and the Mishnah from Bava Metzia.
- What is implied about Torah by tying “flour” to it? Why might the two be interdependent? What does work have to do with this?
- What do the Torah and the Rabbinic Sages teach us about the meaning of work?
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Traditional Jewish Sources." (Viewed on May 26, 2015) <http://jwa.org/node/15017/lightbox2>.